There’s a reason that some professional football clubs use the gaming series Football Manager as a scouting tool. It has a track record of identifying potential future stars when the players are just starting out. Of course, it’s by no means flawless and gamers will always look back at the likes of Cherno Samba, Freddy Adu and Mark Kerr wondering about what could have been.
It’s very much dependant on how you define ‘success’ but it wouldn’t be wide of the mark to suggest many of the wonderkids in the game have had successful careers. But we aren’t after the success stories, we wanted the undoubted stars of the game who have delivered in real life.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are exempt because, well, they are a bit too obvious. They are the best two players of not just their generation but in the history of the game.
The Belgian centre-back has been unfortunate over recent seasons with injuries but at one time he was arguably one of the defenders in the world. The 30-year-old was one of the must buys on Football Manager 2005 when he was at Belgian side Anderlecht. He made the move to Hamburg in August 2006 and his career appeared to stutter a little.
However, a move to Manchester City two years later saw him fulfill his early potential. He played an integral part in the blue half of Manchester winning two Premier League titles in three seasons.
The Football Manager 2006 forums were filled with people asking the same question; does anybody have a screenshot of Sergio Agüero’s stats in season two/three of their save?
The prolific Argentine striker has delivered for Independiente as a teenager before scoring over 100 goals for both Atletico Madrid and Manchester City. He’s won the Europa League, the Premier League and the FA Cup. The fact he’s perpetually linked with moves to both Real Madrid and Barcelona is testament to his quality.
Football Manager 2005 saw many take note of an Arsenal youngster going by the name Francesc Fàbregas. The teenager would quickly become of the best midfielders in the game and his career in real life mirrored it.
He helped the Gunners win the FA Cup and reach the 2006 Champions League final before going on to captain them. He returned to Barcelona in 2011 and won everything other than the Champions League and he was then instrumental in Chelsea winning the 2014/15 Premier League. He delivered on the international stage too and was part of the Spanish squad when they won Euro 2008 and 2012 along with the 2010 World Cup.
Football Manager 2005 saw Bayern Munich legend Philipp Lahm in the second season of his loan at VfB Stuttgart. You had to wait to sign the German but he was definitely worth it. In real life his career couldn’t have gone any better and to date he’s won seven Bundesliga titles, six German Cups as well as the Champions League. He also captained his country to the 2014 World Cup and retired with 113 appearances to his name.
“I had to sell Ivan Helguera because Ramos is keeping him out of the team” – Football Manager 2006 players. The versatile defender burst onto the scene for Sevilla in 2004 before a €27million move to Real Madrid. He was shifted around the team early on and even played as a defensive midfielder but then settled into life as a centre-back.
The 30-year-old has made over 500 appearances for Los Blancos, has three La Liga titles and has won two Champions Leagues – scoring in both finals. He was also part of the dominant Spanish squad that won Euro 2008 and 2012 along with the 2010 World Cup.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was just 19-years-old on Championship Manager 00/01 but he topped the shopping list of every single virtual manager. Even at such a young age he was a destructive force of nature and he’d rack up goals like they were going out of fashion.
Similar story in real life too. The Swede has delivered on a regular basis for some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs and at 35 years old is currently carrying Manchester United. He’s scored over 400 career goals and has won silverware every single season since the 2000/01 campaign.
Back in 2008 Lille had a 16-year-old Eden Hazard on their books and on occasion he was available on a free at the end of the first season. Given enough first-team exposure he would go on to be one of the best attacking midfielders in the game.
In real life he terrorised Ligue 1 defences as Lille went on to win an unlikely league and cup double in 2010/11 before a £32million move to Chelsea in 2012. He helped the Stamford Bridge club to a Europa League win 2012/13 and to Premier League glory in 2014/15.
Football Manager 2008 saw the Chilean plying his trade at Udinese. He was available at a bargain price – usually around the £5million mark – and he went on to become one of the best attackers on the game.
In real life Alexis Sánchez was named world’s most promising youngster in 2011 by users of FIFA.com and he made a €26.5million move to Barcelona in the summer of that year.
He spent three seasons with the Catalan giants, winning La Liga and the Copa Del Rey, before the club cashed in on him to land Liverpool’s Luis Suárez. Arsenal parted with £31million to secure the versatile forward and he helped them win the 2014/15 FA Cup.
His impressive form this season resulted in him being named the Premier League’s best striker on Football Whispers TV episode eleven. Quite the feat.
In Football Manager 2009 Gareth Bale was a gem. He could play anywhere down the left hand side of the pitch and he’d excel. He was a set piece expert who would chip in with a dozen goals every season even from a left-back role.
His career in real life started slowly and Spurs reportedly almost gave up on him and sold him to Birmingham for £1million. Luckily for them the deal didn’t happen. He was converted from a left-back into an attacking midfielder/forward and his career exploded. Real Madrid paid a then record fee of £85million in the summer of 2013 to land the Welshman.
He repaid back some of that fee with goals against Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey final and Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final the very same season.
— Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) March 2, 2017
Football Manager 2011 saw the emergence of Neymar. The 18-year-old Brazilian was the must have player on the game, a generations Lionel Messi, and he was basically a cheat code.
It’s the sort of player you see develop into the very best on the game and think he’s never going to be able to do that in real life. But Neymar has done just that.
Still just 25 years old, the Brazilian has won everything with Barcelona and makes up one third of one of the best attacks every assembled in the history of the game. He’s well on his way to surpassing the legendary Pelé as his countries all time leading goalscorer.